Journalists have though welcomed the newly formed “Protection of Journalists and Media Professional Act, 2021” but they have some serious concerns about some clauses of the bill saying the government can misuse these clauses against the critical voices.
National Assembly of Pakistan and Senate of Pakistan has passed the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, 2021 on November 08 and November 19, 2021 respectively.
Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain congratulated working journalists over the passage of the bill in a tweet saying: “The law would, for the first time, give working journalists the same rights the journalist community enjoyed in highly developed societies.”
Senior Journalist Sehrish Qureshi said, for the first time in the history of Pakistan, the government has made legislation for the protection of the journalist, it will give not only give protection to the journalist from violence through language, physical security but will also provide financial security to the journalists and media professionals, and will bound the employers to pay the salary and other rights on time.
Nasir Zaidi – General Secretary, Pakistan Federal Union of Jouranlists (PFUJ) – said, Clause 6 (3) of the Act could be used by any government to frame journalists and it should have been amended.
“These are thin lines that are always placed in such laws that could be used against any individual or organisation,” Mr Zaidi added.
Clause 6 of the Act states: “All journalists and media professionals must respect the rights and reputation of others and not produce material that advocates national, racial, ethnical, religious, sectarian, linguistic, cultural or gender-based hatred which may constitute incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.”
Mr Zaidi said these restrictions were also present in other laws and such a connotation in the Act could have been avoided if it would have been finalised after consultation in the Senate standing committee.
Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari presented the media protection bill both in National Assembly and Senate of Pakistan.
During the proceeding of Senate Session, the opposition demanded that Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani to forward the media protection bill, to the respective standing committee for vetting.
However, Mazari pointed out that it took a year to draft the bill, saying voting to approve it should be conducted to avoid any further delay. Later, the bill was approved by the majority.
When contacted, Iqbal Khattak – Executive Director, Freedom Network – said, such legislation was a demand of the journalist bodies and civil society organizations for the last two decades, and now finally the government has of recognized journalism in Pakistan, which is a good step.
He added, after the legislation, now the government or any of its institutions will not authorize to stop any journalist from the coverage or from performing his duties anywhere in Pakistan.
He added, it is just the beginning of the journey, the government has to establish a commission and they have to provide budget and other resources to that commission to perform its duties as per this act.
Khattak also expressed concerns over Section 6 of the act and said, the government has set a pre-qualification standard in this section, and only those who qualify the standard set in Section 6 of the Act, will be able to get benefits of this legislation. He also demanded to exclude this section by amending the law.
Salient Features of Protection of Journalists and Media Professional Bill 2021:
The salient features of the revised Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill, 2021 include the following:
- The Bill comprises of five Parts; Preliminary, Rights of Journalists and Media Professionals, Training and Insurance of Journalists, Investigation and Redress, and Miscellaneous. It also contains a Schedule.
- The Bill provides comprehensive definitions of “journalists” and “media professionals”.
- The Bill prescribes rights to journalists and media professionals.
- Right to safeguarding of the confidentiality of sources, of journalists or media professionals
- The Bill provides for the establishment of Commission for Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals that shall include members from Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and National Press Club (NPC) and Representatives from Ministry of Human Rights and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Pakistan 145 in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index. The RSF had ranked Pakistan 159/180 back in 2013. It scored Pakistan at +1.34 in 2021 from 45.52 in 2020.
According to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 62 journalists are killed in Pakistan from 1992 to 2021 and in only 3 cases the accused are convicted.
When contacted, Advocate Ishtiyaq Bukhari said, newly passed journalists protection bill is basically a black law and it will curb the freedom of press in Pakistan.
He said, Section 6 of the Act restricts the journalists from performing their duties without any fear and pressure. Moreover, Section 4(3) bounds the journalists, to disclose the source after due process of law, and this due process will be defined by the Government or its institution.
Ghazala Fasih – Senior Journalist – said, after a struggle by the journalist bodies and civil society organizations two decades the government has passed the landmark bill for the projection of journalists.
To a question regarding the controversial section of the act, she said, further explanation of each section of the Act will be done by the members of the Commission that will be established under the Act. This Commission will also have representation of senior journalists, she maintained.
Section 4(3) of the Act states:
“The Government shall ensure that no journalist, reporter or media professional is forced, inducted, compelled, coerced or threatened for the disclosure of his/her sources of information by any person, officer, agency, authority or institution save without due process of the law.”